Apple Tree Yard (BBC One, Sundays, 9pm) sounds like a children’s television series, featuring a singing pig and dancing ducks. Instead, it’s where married mother Yvonne Carmichael, played by Emily Watson, meets her phantom lover for adulterous intercourse. She is a scientist; the phantom is a mystery man she met in Parliament who claims to be a spy but is far too short and ordinary-looking for that (my theory: he works in the gift shop).
The first episode is full of much rumpy pumpy, which spawned headlines about saucy scenes. All of which turned out to be deeply inappropriate given that the episode closed with Yvonne being raped by a work colleague. That’s the big problem with Apple Tree Yard: it’s sold as an erotic thriller but plays out like a serious drama. The tone left me feeling uneasy. Its themes are nearly betrayed by the sensationalism surrounding it.
Writers Louise Doughty and Amanda Coe are obviously making the point that rape victims are not all virgins, and the fact that they are intimate with one person absolutely does not excuse violent assault by another – a distinction that our court system sometimes fails to make. Yvonne is talked out of going to the police on the basis that her affair will be used against her. She refuses to be a victim and so, denied legal justice, decides to take things into her own hands. And that’s the most interesting part of the drama: the evolution of Yvonne from an ordinary woman who hardly notices that she’s alive to a wronged person determined to take back control of her life. The result is anarchy, regret. Nothing is simple.
Emily Watson deserves an award for her portrayal of the lead. Ben Chaplin is less convincing as the spy (I keep waiting for him to be called to attend a spillage in aisle five). As for the uneven tone of the drama, I probably have to blame the media. The fact that it dared to depict middle-aged people enjoying sex was reason enough to get headlines – and the headlines, along with the pornographic first episode, prepared me for a different drama entirely. What followed was disturbing and important.
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